Alex Manly dominates Australian road nationals U23 category

Twenty-year-old's titles part of Orica-Scott youth movement

Katrin Garfoot wasn't the only Orica-Scott rider to do the double in Buninyong at the 2017 Cycling Australia Road National Championships. Alexandra Manly repeated her teammate's success in the women's Under 23 category.

Manly was the quickest in Thursday's time trial, stopping the clock at 48:30.29 after an undulating 29.3 kilometres. Three days later, she won the race within the race on "Super Sunday" amongst the 12 under-23 starters in the elite women's race. Four of those U23 riders remained in the race following 10 laps of the 10.2 Mount Buninyong circuit.

"I was confident," Manly told reporters, including Cyclingnews, about the under-23 road race title. "I'm not really a sprinter, but I have a track background, and I was like: ‘Maybe I can out-sprint them.' That was my strongest point out there. I didn't have them on the hills."

"I came here wanting to win, to win them both, so I'm really happy," Manly said.

A two-time 2014 junior track world champion in the individual and team pursuits, Manly moved up to the senior ranks the year after winning her world titles. With a dual focus on both the track and the road, she opted out of elite road nationals in 2015-2016.

Her participation in the 2017 Road National Championships gave Orica-Scott a clean podium sweep of the time trial and road titles.

"I haven't raced nationals the last two years, and I don't think Orica has had a situation where they've had anyone in the under-23 races," said Manly. "[The sweep] means a lot. It shows we have a lot of depth in our group at the moment."

Manly is one of two Australian juniors who earned an Orica-Scott contract as a first-year senior. Macey Stewart, a three-time junior world champion on the track and the road, and Manly both joined the Australian-registered squad in 2015.

Stewart struggled with the transition and announced that she would take a break from professional cycling following her first European road season. Manly has thrived in the environment Orica-Scott provides.

"I was really, really lucky to get the development opportunity with Orica," said Manly. "No other junior girl had that before me. I was really lucky that they took the opportunity with me and a bit of a risk."

"I've been nurtured a lot better compared to previous girls [in other teams]," noted Manly. "I think this is a good pathway that I can hopefully create for other girls coming through after me who show their potential at the Junior Worlds."

"I think [the team] has done a really good job of developing me," Manly added. "That's why I'm able to step up into the group now."

A careful transition

Sport director Gene Bates, who coaches Manly on the road, noted that Manly's transition and development has been thoughtfully devised.

"We've been very intentional in allowing Alex to develop at her own pace," said Bates. "We all know there's a lot of potential there, and we're all eager to see what she'll do with that, but we don't want to push her or put any pressure on her."

Manly secured her national titles in the context of a collective step-up for Orica-Scott's youngest riders.

Twenty-three-year-old Jessica Allen won the final stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic last Tuesday and backed up that result with a tactically nuanced and aggressive ride for the Australia's elite criterium title the following day. Jenelle Crooks, 22, rode herself onto the podium in Portarlington, part of Orica-Scott's podium sweep on the second stage of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic, and played a pivotal role in Allen's criterium title.

All three credit the support from their older and more experienced teammates when discussing their success.

"The older girls that we ride with, I learn so much from them," said Manly. "Every time I'm with them, riding with them, the way they go about preparing for a race, at a race, during a race. They're always giving us information. We're really lucky to have such a strong group of riders around us and supporting us. They don't think of us as weaker. They think of us as someone to develop, and they definitely help us do that."

Manly will line up for the Santos Women's Tour in Adelaide on Saturday. She's part of Orica-Scott's six-rider squad hoping to win Australia's only UCI women's stage race for the third straight year.

From there, she's back on the track in Adelaide where she hopes to earn a spot on Australia's team pursuit squad for the 2017 Track World Championships in Hong Kong before she heads back to Italy in April for the start of her European road season.

"With the track stuff, I can do stuff on the road as well," explained Manly. "So I'll do Tour Down Under and then swap back to completely focusing on track until selection for Worlds or after Worlds. I'm still not in the team. I still need to make my way into that." 

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